Brain Maya February 2009

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Brain Maya February 2009

  1. 1. Psychology and Neuroscience Magazine Issue No. 1 February 2009 One is only micrometers wide. The other is billions of light years across. One shows neurons in a mouse brain. The other is a simulated image of the universe. Together they suggest the unsurprisingly similar patterns found in vastly different natural phenomena. Contents Page No Neuroscience: Socioeconomic status and brain differences between poor and rich kids ………. 2 Darwinism: Why we are, as we are ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 6 Neuroscience: Hijacking the brain circuits with a nickel slot machine …………………………………….15 Animal Behaviour: Swarm theory …………………………………………………………………………………………….18 Humour: They’re made out of meat …………………………………………………………………………………………..26 Book Review: Born to rebel ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….28 Economics: Paul Krugman and his four rules of research ………………………………………………………..34 0
  2. 2. Editor’s Note Welcome to the first issue of Brain Maya. This magazine consists of a collection of various articles from various sources and has been published with the intention of increasing public awareness and education about developments in psychology, neuroscience and related fields. If you would like to contribute articles or have something to say you can contact the editor at brainmaya@gmail.com Cover Image (Left Image) Mark Miller, a doctoral student at Brandeis University, is researching how particular types of neurons in the brain are connected to one another. By staining thin slices of a mouse's brain, he can identify the connections visually. The image above shows three neuron cells on the left (two red and one yellow) and their connections. (Right Image) An international group of astrophysicists used a computer simulation last year to recreate how the universe grew and evolved. The simulation image above is a snapshot of the present universe that features a large cluster of galaxies (bright yellow) surrounded by thousands of stars, galaxies and dark matter (web). (Source by Mark Miller, Brandeis University; Virgo Consortium for Cosmological Supercomputer Simulations; www.visualcomplexity.com) 1
  3. 3. Neuroscience quot;Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in Socioeconomic status and brain the frontal lobe as an adult,quot; said Robert differences between poor and Knight, director of the institute and a UC rich kids Berkeley professor of psychology. quot;We found that kids are more likely to have a low BERKELEY — University of California, response if they have low socioeconomic Berkeley, researchers have shown for the status, though not everyone who is poor has first time that the brains of low-income low frontal lobe response.quot; children function differently from the brains of high-income kids. Previous studies have shown a possible link between frontal lobe function and behavioral In a study recently accepted for publication differences in children from low and high by the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, socioeconomic levels, but according to scientists at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills cognitive psychologist Mark Kishiyama, first Neuroscience Institute and the School of author of the new paper, quot;those studies were Public Health report that normal 9- and 10- only indirect measures of brain function and year-olds differing only in socioeconomic could not disentangle the effects of status have detectable differences in the intelligence, language proficiency and other response of their prefrontal cortex, the part factors that tend to be associated with low of the brain that is critical for problem socioeconomic status. Our study is the first solving and creativity. with direct measure of brain activity where there is no issue of task complexity.quot; Co-author W. Thomas Boyce, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of public health who currently is the British Columbia Leadership Chair of Child Development at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is not surprised by the results. quot;We know kids growing up in resource-poor environments have more trouble with the kinds of behavioral control that the prefrontal cortex is involved in regulating. But the fact that we see functional differences in prefrontal cortex response in lower socioeconomic status kids is definitive.quot; Electroencephalography, or EEG, uses Boyce, a pediatrician and developmental electrodes on the scalp and held in place by psychobiologist, heads a joint UC a cap to measure underlying brain activity. Berkeley/UBC research program called (Lee Michael Perry/UC Berkeley) WINKS - Wellness in Kids - that looks at how the disadvantages of growing up in low Brain function was measured by means of an socioeconomic circumstances change children's basic neural development over the electroencephalograph (EEG) - basically, a first several years of life. cap fitted with electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain - like that used quot;This is a wake-up call,quot; Knight said. quot;It's to assess epilepsy, sleep disorders and brain not just that these kids are poor and tumors. more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full 2
  4. 4. brain development from the stressful The subjects were instructed to click a and relatively impoverished button when a slightly skewed triangle environment associated with low flashed on the screen. socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to The researchers were interested in the museums.quot; brain's very early response - within as little as 200 milliseconds, or a fifth of a second - Kishiyama, Knight and Boyce suspect that after a novel picture was flashed on the the brain differences can be eliminated by screen, such as a photo of a puppy or of proper training. They are collaborating with Mickey and Minnie Mouse. UC Berkeley neuroscientists who use games to improve the prefrontal cortex function, quot;An EEG allows us to measure very fast brain and thus the reasoning ability, of school-age responses with millisecond accuracy,quot; children. Kishiyama said. quot;It's not a life sentence,quot; Knight emphasized. The researchers discovered a dramatic quot;We think that with proper intervention and difference in the response of the prefrontal training, you could get improvement in both cortex not only when an unexpected image behavioral and physiological indices.quot; flashed on the screen, but also when children were merely watching the upright triangles waiting for a skewed triangle to appear. Those from low socioeconomic environments showed a lower response to the unexpected novel stimuli in the prefrontal cortex that was similar, Kishiyama said, to the response of people who have had a portion of their frontal lobe destroyed by a stroke. quot;When paying attention to the triangles, the prefrontal cortex helps you process the visual stimuli better. And the prefrontal cortex is even more involved in detecting novelty, like the unexpected photographs,quot; Children of high socioeconomic status (SES) he said. But in both cases, quot;the low show more activity (dark green) in the socioeconomic kids were not detecting or prefrontal cortex (top) than do kids of low processing the visual stimuli as well. They SES when confronted with a novel or were not getting that extra boost from the prefrontal cortex.quot; unexpected stimulus. (Mark Kishiyama/UC Berkeley) quot;These kids have no neural damage, no prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, no Kishiyama, Knight, Boyce and their neurological damage,quot; Kishiyama said. quot;Yet, colleagues selected 26 children ages 9 and the prefrontal cortex is not functioning as 10 from a group of children in the WINKS efficiently as it should be. This difference study. Half were from families with low may manifest itself in problem solving incomes and half from families with high and school performance.quot; incomes. For each child, the researchers measured brain activity while he or she was The researchers suspect that stressful environments and cognitive impoverishment engaged in a simple task: watching a are to blame, since in animals, stress and sequence of triangles projected on a screen. environmental deprivation have been shown 3
  5. 5. to affect the prefrontal cortex. UC Berkeley's quot;People have tried for a long time to train Marian Diamond, professor of integrative reasoning, largely unsuccessfully,quot; Bunge biology, showed nearly 20 years ago in rats said. quot;Our question is, 'Can we replicate that enrichment thickens the cerebral cortex these initial findings and at the same time as it improves test performance. And as give kids the tools to succeed?'quot; Boyce noted, previous studies have shown that children from poor families hear 30 Berkerly million fewer words by the time they are four than do kids from middle-class families. http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releas es/2008/12/02_cortex.shtml quot;In work that we and others have done, it really looks like something as simple and Poor Kids Hear 30 Million Fewer Words easily done as talking to your kidsquot; can boost by Time they Reach 4 Years prefrontal cortex performance, Boyce said. UC Berkeley's Marian Diamond professor quot;We are certainly not blaming lower emeritus of integrative biology, showed socioeconomic families for not talking to nearly 20 years ago in rats that enrichment their kids - there are probably a zillion thickens the cerebral cortex as it reasons why that happens,quot; he said. quot;But improves test performance. And as Boyce changing developmental outcomes might noted, previous studies have shown that involve something as accessible as helping children from poor families hear 30 million parents to understand that it is important fewer words by the time they are four than that kids sit down to dinner with their do kids from middle-class families. parents, and that over the course of that dinner it would be good for there to be a quot;In work that we and others have done, it conversation and people saying things to really looks like something as simple and each other.quot; easily done as talking to your kidsquot; can boost prefrontal cortex performance, Boyce said. quot;The study is suggestive and a little bit frightening that environmental conditions have such a strong impact on brain development,quot; said Silvia Bunge, UC Berkeley assistant professor of psychology who is leading the intervention studies on prefrontal cortex development in teenagers by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Boyce's UBC colleague, Adele Diamond, showed last year that 5- and 6-year-olds with impaired executive functioning, that is, poor problem solving and reasoning abilities, The outer layer of grey matter, can improve their academic performance approximately 2 mm thick, covering the with the help of special activities, including entire surface of the cerebral hemispheres. dramatic play. The cerebral cortex is made up of neuron and supporting cells (glial cells) and Bunge hopes that, with fMRI, she can show functions to correlate information from many improvements in academic performance as a sources to maintain cognitive function (all result of these games, actually boosting the aspects of perceiving, thinking and activity of the prefrontal cortex. remembering). 4
  6. 6. quot;We are certainly not blaming lower socioeconomic families for not talking to their kids - there are probably a zillion reasons why that happens,quot; he said. quot;But changing developmental outcomes might involve something as accessible as helping parents to understand that it is important that kids sit down to dinner with their parents, and that over the course of that dinner it would be good for there to be a conversation and people saying things to each other.quot;. Boyce's Cal colleague, Adele Diamond, showed last year that 5- and 6-year-olds with impaired executive functioning, that is, poor problem solving and reasoning abilities, can improve their academic performance with the help of special activities, including dramatic play. Bunge hopes that she can show improvements in academic performance as a result of these games, actually boosting the activity of the prefrontal cortex. 5
  7. 7. Darwinism get to the nitty-gritty of what it truly is to be human. Policy based on them does not work. This is because they ignore the forces Why we are, as we are that made people what they are: the forces of evolution. As the 150th anniversary of the publication of “On The Origin of The reasons for that ignorance are complex. Species” approaches, the moment has Philosophers have preached that there exists come to ask how Darwin’s insights can between man and beast an unbridgeable be used profitably by policymakers distinction. Sociologists have been seduced by Marxist ideas about the perfectibility of Charles Darwin(12 February 1809 – 19 April mankind. Theologians have feared that the 1882) very thought of evolution threatens divine explanations of the world. Even fully paid-up members of the Enlightenment, people who would not for a moment deny humanity’s simian ancestry, are often sceptical. They seem to believe, as Anne Campbell, a psychologist at Durham University, in England, elegantly puts it, that evolution stops at the neck: that human anatomy evolved, but human behaviour is culturally determined. WEALTH, according to H.L. Mencken, an The corollary to this is the idea that with American satirist of the last century, “is any appropriate education, indoctrination, social income that is at least $100 more a year conditioning or what have you, people can than the income of one’s wife’s sister’s be made to behave in almost any way husband.” Adjusted for inflation since 1949, imaginable. The evidence, however, is that is not a bad definition. But why do those that they cannot. The room for shaping who are already well-off feel the need to their behaviour is actually quite limited. out-earn other people? And why, Unless that is realised, and the contrariwise, is it so hard to abolish poverty? underlying biology of the behaviour to be shaped is properly understood, America, Mencken’s homeland, executes attempts to manipulate it are likely to around 40 people a year for murder. Yet it fail. Unfortunately, even as the 150th still has a high murder rate. Why do people anniversary of Darwin’s masterwork, “On murder each other when they are almost The Origin of Species”, approaches (it was always caught and may, in America at least, published in 1859) that fact has not been be killed themselves as a result? properly accepted. Time, then, to see what a Darwinian analysis has to offer the hard- Why, after 80 years of votes for women, and pressed policymaker, and whether it can 40 years of the feminist revolution, do men make a practical difference to outcomes. still earn larger incomes? And why do so many people hate others merely for having Mencken’s observation neatly explains two different coloured skin? aspects of modern life. One is the open- endedness of economic growth. The other is Traditionally, the answers to such questions, that no matter how rich your country and many others about modern life, have becomes, the poor you will always have with been sought in philosophy, sociology, even you. But what explains Mencken’s religion. But the answers that have come observation? back are generally unsatisfying. They describe, rather than explain. They do not 6
  8. 8. For a Darwinian, life is about two Life is about survival and reproduction things: survival and reproduction. Of the two, the second is the more significant. To For men, at least, this is demonstrably true. put it crudely, the only Darwinian point of Evolutionary biologists are fond of quoting survival is reproduction. As a consequence, extreme examples to make the point, the much of daily existence is about showing off, most famous being Moulay Ismail the subtly or starkly, in ways that attract Bloodthirsty, a Moroccan ruler who fathered members of the opposite sex and intimidate over 1,000 children. But kings have powers those of the same sex. In humans—unlike, of coercion. Some better examples are say, peafowl, where only the cocks have the provided by Joe Studwell, in his book “Asian flashy tails, or deer, where only the stags Godfathers”, which dissects the lives of have the chunky antlers—both sexes engage businessmen. Stanley Ho, a veteran operator in this. Men do it more than women, but you in Hong Kong and Macau, has 17 children by need look no further than Ascot race course several women. Oei Tiong Ham, a tycoon on Gold Cup day to see that women do it who died in 1924, had 18 concubines and 42 too. Status and hierarchy matter. And in children. The relationship holds good further modern society, status is mediated by down the social ladder. Danile Nettle and money. Thomas Pollet, of Newcastle University, recently showed that in Britain the number Girls have always liked a rich man, of of children a man has fathered is, on course. Darwinians used to think this was average, related to his income, the spread of due to his ability to provide materially for modern contraception notwithstanding. their children. No doubt that is part of it. But the thinking among evolutionary biologists Status, though, is always relative: it is linked these days is that what is mainly going on is to money because it drives the desire to a competition for genes, not goods. High- make more of the stuff in order to outdo the status individuals are more likely to have competition. This is the ultimate engine of genes that promote health and intelligence, economic growth. Since status is a moving and members of the opposite sex have been target, there is no such thing as enough honed by evolution to respond accordingly. A money. high-status man will get more opportunities to mate. A high-status woman can be more The relative nature of status explains the choosy about whom she mates with. paradox observed in 1974 by an economist called Richard Easterlin that, while rich people are happier than poor people within a country, average happiness does not increase as that country gets richer. This has been disputed recently. But if it withstands scrutiny it means the free-market argument—that because economic growth makes everybody better off, it does not matter that some are more better off than others—does not stand up, at least if “better off” is measured in terms of happiness. What actually matters, Darwinism suggests, is that a free society allows people to rise through the hierarchy by their own efforts: the American dream, if you like. Conversely, the Darwinian explanation of continued support for socialism—in the teeth The book that turns 150 this year. of evidence that it results in low economic 7
  9. 9. growth—is that even though making the rich In this case, therefore, the Darwinian poorer would not make the poor richer in conclusion is that there is no right answer— financial terms, it would change the or at least no Utopian one. Of course, it does hierarchy in ways that people at the bottom not take a Darwinist to work out that any would like. When researchers ask people competition has losers. The illuminating whether they would rather be relatively point is that losing has a real cost, not just richer than their peers even if that means the absence of gain. With the stakes this they are absolutely worse off, the answer is high—early death for the failures and genetic yes. (Would you rather earn $100,000 when continuity for the successes—it is hardly all your friends earn $50,000, or $150,000 surprising that those at the bottom of the when everybody else earns $300,000?) The heap sometimes seek status, or at least reason socialism does not work in practice is “respect”, in other ways. This is a point that that this is not a question that most people should be taken seriously by policymakers. ask themselves. What they ask is how to For those “other ways” are also explicable by earn $300,000 when all around them people Darwinism. are earning $50,000. That crime is selfish is hardly news. But the A Darwinian analysis does, however, support idea that criminal behaviour is an evolved one argument frequently made by the left response to circumstances sounds shocking. and pooh-poohed by the right. This is that It calls into question the moral explanation poverty is relative. The starkest that crime is done by “bad people”. Yet that demonstration of this, discovered by Richard explanation is itself susceptible to Darwinian Wilkinson of Nottingham University, in analysis: evolution probably explains why England, is that once economic growth has certain behaviours are deemed worthy of lifted a country out of penury, its inhabitants punishment. are likely to live longer, healthier lives if there are not huge differences between their The study of the evolutionary roots of crime incomes. This means that poorer countries began with the work of Martin Daly and with low income-variation can outscore Margo Wilson, a married couple who work at richer ones with high variation. It is also McMaster University in Canada. They looked true, as was first demonstrated by Michael at what is usually regarded as the most Marmot, of University College, London, that serious crime of all, murder. those at the bottom of social hierarchies have worse health than those at the top— That murderers are usually young men is even when all other variables are statistically well known, but Dr Daly and Dr Wilson dug a eliminated, including the fact that those who bit deeper. They discovered that although are healthier are more likely to rise to the the murder rate varies from place to place, top in the first place. the pattern does not. Plot the rate against the age of the perpetrator and the peak is In the 1970s, when Dr Marmot made this the same (see chart next page). observation, expert opinion predicted the opposite. Executives were expected to suffer worse stress than groundlings, and this was expected to show up as heart attacks, strokes and so forth. In fact, the opposite is true. It is the Darwinian failure of being at the bottom of the heap that is truly stressful and bad for the health. That, writ large, probably explains the mortality patterns of entire countries. 8
  10. 10. low status. A woman will rarely have difficulty finding a mate, even if he does not measure up to all her lofty ideals. In the world of Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty, however, a low-status man may be cast on the reproductive scrap heap because there are no women available to him at all. Though the world in which humanity evolved was nowhere near as polygamous as Moulay Ismail’s, neither did it resemble the modern one of monogamous marriage, which distributes women widely. In those circumstances, if the alternative was reproductive failure, risking the consequences of violence may have been are worth the gamble—and instincts will have evolved accordingly. For similar reasons, it is no surprise to Moreover, the pattern of the victims is Darwinists that those who rape strangers are similar. They, too, are mostly young men. In also men of low status. Oddly, considering it the original study, 86% of the victims of is an act that might result in a child, the idea male killers aged between 15 and 19 were that rape is an evolved behaviour is even also male. This is the clue as to what is more controversial than the Darwinian going on. Most violence (and thus most explanation of murder. Randy Thornhill of murder, which is simply violence’s most the University of New Mexico, who proposed extreme expression) is a consequence it on the basis of criminal data and by of competition between young, comparing people with other species, was unemployed, unmarried men. In the excoriated by feminists who felt he was view of Darwinists, these men are either somehow excusing the crime. On the other competing for women directly (“You hand, it has become a mantra among some looking at my girl, Jimmy?”) or feminists that all men are rapists, which competing for status (“You dissing me, sounds a lot like the opposite point of view: man?”). biological determinism. Insert the word “potential”, however, and this claim is This is not to deny that crimes of violence probably true. are often crimes of poverty (for which read low status). But that is precisely what To a Darwinist, the most common form of Darwinism would predict. There is no need to forced mating, so-called date rape, which invoke the idea that people are “born occurs in an already charged sexual criminal”. All that is required is the evolution environment, looks a lot like an adaptive of enough behavioural flexibility to respond response. Men who engage in it are likely to appropriately when violence is (or would have more offspring than those who do not. have been, in the evolutionary past) an If a genetic disposition for men to force their appropriate response. attentions on women in this way does exist, it would inevitably spread. Sexual success, by contrast, tends to Crime… dampen criminal behaviour down. Getting married and having children—in An evolutionary analysis explains many other words, achieving at least part of things about crime (and not just murder)— his Darwinian ambition—often particularly why most criminals are males of 9
  11. 11. terminates a criminal’s career. Again, a duck. A lioness may try to defend her cubs that is a commonplace observation. against infanticide, but if she fails she does However, it tends to be explained as not plan vengeance against the male who did “the calming influence of marriage”, it. Instead, she usually has sex with him. Yet which is not really an explanation at all. ideas of revenge and punishment lie deep in “Ambition fulfilled” is a better one. the human psyche. The murder of children, too, can be …and punishment explained evolutionarily. On the face of things it makes no sense to kill the vessels Economists were long puzzled, for example, carrying your genes into the next by the routine outcome of a game in which generation. And, indeed, that is not what one player divides a sum of money between usually happens. But sociologists failed to himself and a competitor, who then decides notice this. It was not until Dr Daly and Dr whether the shares are fair. If the second Wilson began researching the field that it player decides the shares are not fair, was discovered that a child under five is neither player gets anything. many times more likely to die an unnatural death in a household with a stepfather What is curious about this game is that, in present (whether or not that relationship has order to punish the first player for his been formalised by law) than if only selfishness, the second player has biological parents are there. deliberately made himself worse off by not accepting the offer. Many evolutionary In this, humans follow a pattern that is biologists feel that the sense of justice this widespread in mammals: male hostility to a illustrates, and the willingness of one player female’s offspring from previous matings. In to punish the other, even at a cost to some species, such as lions and langurs, this himself, are among the things that have results in deliberate infanticide. In humans allowed humans to become such a things not are always as brutal and explicit. successful, collaborative species. In the But neglect and a low threshold of irritation small social world in which humans evolved, at the demands of a dependent non-relative people dealt with the same neighbours over can have the same effect. and over again. Punishing a cheat has desirable long-term consequences for the Intriguingly, though, if a genetic parent is person doing the punishing, as well as for the killer it is often the mother. Infanticidal the wider group. In future, the cheat will mothers are usually young. A young mother either not deal with him or will do so more has many years of potential reproduction honestly. Evolution will favour the ahead of her. If circumstances do not favour development of emotions that make such her at the time (perhaps the father has reactions automatic. deserted her) the cost to her total reproductive output of bringing up a child What goes for cheating goes for other bad may exceed the risk of killing it. Not behaviour, up to and including the murder of surprisingly, maternal infanticide is mainly a relatives and friends. Moreover, if publicly crime of poor, single women. observed, punishment sends the same message to those who might be considering Many people might sympathise with those a similar course of action. driven to commit this particular form of homicide. But in general crimes such as It is therefore one of the marvels of murder and rape provoke a desire to punish civilisation that punishment and revenge the perpetrators, not to forgive them. That, have, for the most part, been too, is probably an evolved response—and it institutionalised. But to be successful, the may well be a uniquely human one. No court institutionalised punishment has to be seen sits in judgment over a drake who has raped as a proper outcome by the individuals who 10
  12. 12. were harmed. Otherwise, they might mete time employment earned only 1% less than out their own revenge. That may worry their male counterparts. This age group those who believe that reforming the corresponds for many women to the period criminal should be the main goal of when they are single. Once they have found sentencing policy. If people no longer believe the best available mate, the calculation that the punishment fits the crime, a changes: a woman no longer needs to show Darwinian would predict that they will stop off. supporting the criminal-justice system. Even deterrence, however, does not always work. On the face of things, capital punishment ought to be the ultimate deterrent. But it does not seem to be. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, suggests that this is further evidence of the reproduction-related nature of murder. Since failure to reproduce is a Darwinian dead-end anyway, risking death to avoid that fate—or, rather, being impelled In that context, it is less of a surprise that to do so in the heat of the moment by an older women are out-earned by their male evolved instinct—is not as stupid as it looks. contemporaries. One reason is that they now Some sorts of murder might be discouraged care less about the size of their earnings. Of by the threat of the noose or the needle. But the top 25 ideal employers, as chosen by not the most common sort: young man on women, the IEA found that 12 were in the young man over status and sex. public or voluntary sectors—areas where salaries for equivalent work tend to be lower A woman’s place than in the private sector, though job security is higher and job satisfaction is often Crime, then, is one field in which women are believed to be greater. unequal with men. That does not bother feminists, but perhaps it should. For it might For men, only four employers were in this reflect a wider truth which those who believe category. The other reason, of course, is that that the sexes should not merely have equal women usually look after the children. rights but enjoy equal outcomes will find Indeed, the study by Dr Nettle and Dr Pollet uncomfortable. which found that reproductive success correlates with men’s income, also points out When outcomes are unequal in socially that with women the correlation is inverted. acceptable areas of behaviour, such as But the IEA study also found that it is employment, it is often interpreted as a sign women themselves who are taking the of discrimination. But people who draw this decisions about child care. It reports that conclusion rarely consider that the two-thirds of the women who had not discrimination in question might actually be already had a “career break”, as it is being exercised by the supposedly euphemistically known, planned to take one disadvantaged women themselves. at some point in the future. Less than an eighth of men had similar aspirations. That, A classic example is income. Women earn too, would be predicted by a Darwinist. less than men. Or do they? In fact, younger women do not, or not much. A recent report Although there is a strong argument for by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a making working conditions more sympathetic British think-tank, found that British women to the needs of parents of both sexes, the aged between 22 and 29 who were in full- underlying point is that many women—and 11
  13. 13. certainly many women with children—do not a circuitous route to a traditional destination. care as much about striving ahead in their It isn’t: not expecting an equal distribution of careers as men do. Men, the report found, the sexes within every profession is not the are more motivated by pay and less by job same as saying that a woman’s place is in satisfaction than women are. If managers, the home. And having dared to question the they are more likely to work long hours. assumptions of both feminists and their They also take more risks—or, at least, are opponents, some evolutionary biologists are more frequently injured at work. now hoping to turn conventional wisdom upside down in another area where civil rights meet long-standing prejudice. This is The consequence, as Len Shackleton, the the vexed question of race. IEA report’s main author, puts it, is that: “The widespread belief that the gender pay gap is a reflection of deep-rooted Race to the finish discrimination by employers is ill-informed and an unhelpful contribution to the debate. Racial difference is an area where modern The pay gap is falling but is also a reflection Darwinists have feared, until recently, to of individuals’ lifestyle preferences. tread. This is hardly surprising, given the Government can’t regulate or legislate these topic’s history. Many early evolutionary away, and shouldn’t try to.” He failed to add, biologists (though not Darwin himself) however, that these preferences are often thought that just as man was a risen ape, so the result of biological differences between white, European man was the zenith of the sexes. humanity, and that people from other parts of the world were necessarily inferior. What goes for pay probably goes for career choice as well. At one extreme, it is foolish, The consequences of that have been terrible. as Kingsley Browne of Wayne State It gave a veneer of intellectual respectability University, in Michigan, suggests, to expect to the eugenic horrors which culminated in equal outcomes in organisations like the the Nazi death camps. Indeed, it is probably armed forces. Not only are men stronger and one of the roots of the “evolution stops at more aggressive but, Mr Browne suggests, the neck” point of view. But evolutionary the psychology of both sexes has evolved to biology is now making amends. By trust men (and not trust women) in combat, overturning understanding of what race precisely because of this aggression and actually is, it may yet provide the tools that strength. At the other end of the scale, it is allow people of different backgrounds to live probably an opposite mixture of evolved in reasonable harmony. aptitudes and attitudes that causes the domination by females of professions such Revenge and punishment lie deep in the as nursing. human psyche This is not to say there can be no good Its first observation is a bleak one. This is female soldiers or male nurses. Patently, that racism, or at least xenophobia, is a there can. But it is not clear evidence of deeply ingrained human characteristic. But discrimination that they are rarer than their its second observation is that, so far as can counterparts of the opposite sex. A be determined, the traditional definition of Darwinian analysis of the matter cannot say race—the tendency of people living in where the equilibrium would lie in a world different parts of the world to have different free from discrimination. But it can say with skin colour, hair colour and physiognomy— reasonable confidence that this equilibrium has no wider ramifications in areas such as will often not be 50/50. intelligence. Racial prejudice, then, is just Many may harrumph at such a Darwinian interpretation of feminism, and say that it is 12
  14. 14. that: prejudice. Though an individual might reasonably be expected to know many members of his tribe personally, he would probably not know them all. There would thus be a biological advantage in tribal branding, as it were. Potential allies would quickly identify what marked them out from others, and what marked others out from them—and, because those differences would probably be small, the detector would need to be very sensitive. In the past, such markers would often have been cultural, since local physical differences What is being proposed instead, by another would have been minimal. A telling instance husband and wife team of Darwinists, Leda is recorded in the Bible: Cosmides and John Tooby of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a theory of Then said they unto him, Say now ethnicity that explains the mishmash of Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he categories anthropologists have tried to could not frame to pronounce it right. Then shoehorn into the general class of “race”. they took him and slew him. Are Jews and Sikhs, who are defined by religious exclusivity, races? Are Serbs and The questioners were the Gileadites. The Croats, who share their religions with others, slain, an Ephraimite. But no physical but not with each other, and whom no difference could distinguish the tribes, so the geneticist could tell apart? These examples, Gileadite ethnic-cleansers had to rely on and similar ones, argue that race has no linguistic tics. biological meaning. But it does. It is just not the traditional meaning. In a world where a syllable can get you killed, having differently coloured skin is a Social psychologists have long observed pretty strong brand of identity. However, it that, on first meeting, people automatically is not a unique signal. Experiments that Dr classify each other in three ways: by sex, by Cosmides, Dr Tooby and their students have age and by race. But Dr Cosmides and Dr conducted in both America and Brazil Tooby pointed out that before long-distance (another racially mixed country) suggest it transport existed, only two of those would is surprisingly easy to rebrand even have been relevant. People of different ages people of different skin colour by and sexes would meet; people of different making other badges of allegiance more races would not. significant—as happens when sportsmen clothe themselves in coloured team shirts. The two researchers argue that modern Moreover, Andrew Penner of the University racial discrimination is an overstimulated of California, Irvine, and Aliya Saperstein of response to what might be called an the University of Oregon have shown that “alliance” detector in the human brain. In a perception of a person’s race can actually world where the largest social unit is the change in the real world. Many people shift tribe, clan or what-you-will of a few hundred from being “white” to “black”, in both their people, your neighbours and your other own eyes and the eyes of others, in response allies will normally look a lot like you, and to unemployment, impoverishment or act similarly. However, it is known from the imprisonment. study of modern hunter-gatherers, and inferred from archaeological evidence about That is an uncomfortable reminder of the ancient ones, that neighbouring tribes are way group solidarity works in America. The often hostile. hope this analysis brings, though, is that 13
  15. 15. there is nothing particularly special about (obesity plus high blood-pressure equals biologically based brands such as skin diabetes plus heart disease) seems to colour. If other brands of group membership Darwinists the consequence of people trying can be strengthened, the traditional ones to sate appetites for sugar and fat that may diminish, even if they do not disappear evolution put no brakes on because they completely. If this theory of race is correct were so rare in the natural world. (and more research is certainly needed), it indicates a strong prescription: policies that Pretending young adults are children so that encourage groups to retain their identity they can be educated en masse in schools is within a society will cause trouble, but those another area ripe for investigation. And the that encourage cultural integration will refusal of people to adhere to the patterns of smooth things over. behaviour prescribed for them by classical economics has already spun off a field called In practice, the history of that most behavioural economics that often has racially mixed country of all, the United Darwinian thinking at its roots. States, supports this idea. When integration has been encouraged, as No one is suggesting Darwinism has all the with the descendants of the great flood answers to social questions. Indeed, with of European immigrants in the late 19th some, such as the role of hierarchies, it and early 20th centuries, ethnic suggests there is no definitive answer at distinctions have vanished. When all—itself an important conclusion. integration has been discouraged, as with the descendants of slaves liberated What is extraordinary, though, is how shortly before those European rarely an evolutionary analysis is part of immigrants arrived, differences have the process of policymaking. To draw an been sharpened. Even in Britain, official analogy, it is like trying to fix a car policy seems to be shifting from without properly understanding how it “multiculturalism”, which celebrated diversity works: not impossible, but as likely as and thus encouraged distinction, to a not to result in a breakdown or a crash. deliberate attempt to forge a cultural Perhaps, after a century and a half, it is consensus. time not just to recognise but also to understand that human beings are What the brand theory of ethnicity does not evolved creatures. To know thyself is, require, however, is that minorities submit to after all, the beginning of wisdom. the majority’s definition of what the brands should be. All that is needed is for each The Economist generation to be encouraged to form its own http://www.economist.com/science/displayst identity from the widest range of materials ory.cfm?story_id=12795581 possible. A Darwinian analysis thus sheds light on a number of pressing questions. There are others. The rise of metabolic syndrome 14
  16. 16. Neuroscience The idea has been around since Freud, said Dr. Gregory Berns, a psychiatrist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Hijacking the Brain Circuits Psychologists have studied unconscious processing of information in terms of With a Nickel Slot Machine subliminal effects, memory and learning, he said, and they have started to map out what Compulsive gambling, attendance at sporting parts of the brain are involved in such events, vulnerability to telephone scams and processing. But only now are they learning exuberant investing in the stock market may how these different circuits interact, he said. not seem to have much in common. But neuroscientists have uncovered a common ''My hunch is that most decisions are made thread. subconsciously with many gradations of awareness,'' Dr. Berns said. ''For example, I'm vaguely aware of how I got to work this morning. But consciousness seems reserved for more important things.'' Dr. P. Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, says the idea that people can get themselves to work on automatic pilot raises two questions: how does the brain know what it must pay conscious attention to? And how did evolution create a brain that could make Such behaviors, they say, rely on brain such distinctions? circuits that evolved to help animals assess rewards important to their survival, like food The answer emerging from experiments on and sex. Researchers have found that those animals and people is that the brain has same circuits are used by the human brain evolved to shape itself, starting in infancy, to assess social rewards as diverse as according to what it encounters in the investment income and surprise home runs external world. at the bottom of the ninth. As Dr. Montague explained it, much of the And, in a finding that astonishes many world is predictable: buildings usually stay in people, they found that the brain one place, gravity makes objects fall, light systems that detect and evaluate such falling at an oblique angle makes long rewards generally operate outside of shadows and so forth. As children grow, their conscious awareness. In navigating the brains build internal models of everything world and deciding what is rewarding, they encounter, gradually learning to identify humans are closer to zombies than objects and to predict how they move sentient beings much of the time. through space and time. The findings, which are gaining wide As new information flows into it from the adherence among neuroscientists, outside world, the brain automatically challenge the notion that people always compares it to what it already knows. If make conscious choices about what things match up -- as when people drive to they want and how to obtain it. In fact, work every day along the same route -- the neuroscientists say, much of what events, objects and the passage of time may happens in the brain goes on outside of not reach conscious awareness. conscious awareness. 15
  17. 17. But if there is a surprise -- a car suddenly with various types of rewards, usually squirts runs a red light -- the mismatch between of apple juice that the animal liked. what is expected and what is happening instantly shifts the brain into a new state. A Dr. Schultz found that when the monkey got brain circuit involved in decision making is more juice than it expected, dopamine activated, again out of conscious awareness. neurons fired vigorously. When the monkey Drawing on past experience held in memory got an amount of juice that it expected to banks, a decision is made: hit the brake, get, based on previous squirts, dopamine swerve the wheel or keep going. Only a neurons did nothing. And when the monkey second or so later, after hands and feet have expected to get juice but got none, the initiated the chosen action, does the sense of dopamine neurons decreased their firing having made a conscious decision arise. rate, as if to signal a lack of reward. Dr. Montague estimates that 90 percent Scientists believe that this midbrain of what people do every day is carried dopamine system is constantly making out by this kind of automatic, predictions about what to expect in terms of unconscious system that evolved to help rewards. Learning takes place only when creatures survive. something unexpected happens and dopamine firing rates increase or decrease. Animals use these circuits to know what to When nothing unexpected happens, as when attend to, what to ignore and what is worth the same amount of delicious apple juice learning about. People use them for the keeps coming, the dopamine system is quiet. same purposes which, as a result of their bigger brains and culture, include listening to In animals, Dr. Montague said, these music, eating chocolate, assessing beauty, midbrain dopamine signals are sent directly gambling, investing in stocks and to brain areas that initiate movements and experimenting with drugs -- all topics that behavior. These brain areas figure out how have been studied this past year with brain to get more apple juice or sit back and do imaging machines that directly measure the nothing. In humans, though, the dopamine activity of human brain circuits. signal is also sent to a higher brain region called the frontal cortex for more elaborate The two circuits that have been studied most processing. extensively involve how animals and people assess rewards. Both involve a chemical Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a neuroscientist at called dopamine. The first circuit, which is in Princeton, studies a part of the frontal cortex a middle region of the brain, helps animals called the anterior cingulate, located in back and people instantly assess rewards or lack of the forehead. This part of the brain has of rewards. several functions, Dr. Cohen said, including the task of detecting errors and conflict in the flow of information being processed automatically. Brain imaging experiments are beginning to show that when a person gets an unexpected reward -- the equivalent of a huge shot of delicious apple juice -- more dopamine reaches The circuit was described in greater detail the anterior cingulate. When a person several years ago by Dr. Wolfram Schultz, a expects a reward and does not get it, neuroscientist at Cambridge University in less dopamine reaches the region. And England, who tracked dopamine production in a monkey's midbrain and experimented when a person expects a reward and gets it, the anterior cingulate is silent. 16
  18. 18. When people expect a reward and do not Music activates neural systems of reward receive it, their brains need a way to register and emotion. Older people with age-related the fact that something is amiss so it can impairments to the frontal cortex do poorly recalibrate expectations for future events, on gambling tasks and, experiments show, Dr. Cohen said. As in monkeys, human are prone to believe misleading advertising. dopamine neurons project to areas that plan and control movements, he said. Fluctuating levels of dopamine make people get up and do things, outside their conscious awareness. The number of things people do to increase their dopamine firing rates is unlimited, neuroscientists are discovering. Several studies were published last year looking at monetary rewards and dopamine. Money is abstract but to the brain it looks like cocaine, food, sex or anything a person expects is rewarding, said Dr. Hans Breiter, Neuroscientists say that part of the a neuroscientist at Harvard. People crave it. appeal of live sporting events is their inherent unpredictability. When a Some people seem to be born with baseball player with two outs at the vulnerable dopamine systems that get bottom of the ninth inning hits a home hijacked by social rewards. The same neural run to win the game, thousands of circuitry involved in the highs and lows of spectators simultaneously experience a abusing drugs is activated by winning or huge surge of dopamine. People keep losing money, anticipating a good meal or coming back, as if addicted to the seeking beautiful faces to look at, Dr. Breiter euphoria of experiencing unexpected said. rewards. For example, dopamine circuits are activated One of the most promising areas for looking by cocaine; people become addicted when at unconscious reward circuits in human their reward circuits have been hijacked by behavior concerns the stock market, Dr. the drug, Dr. Montague said. Montague said. Economists do not study people, they study collective neural systems Winning in gambling can also hijack the in people who form mass expectations. For dopamine system, Dr. Berns said. Many example, when the Federal Reserve people visit a casino, lose money and are not unexpectedly lowered interest rates twice tempted to go back. But compulsive last year, the market went up, he said. When gamblers seem to have vulnerable dopamine it lowered interest rates on other occasions systems, he said. The first time they win, and investors knew the move was coming, they get a huge dopamine rush that gets markets did not respond. embedded in their memory. They keep gambling and the occasional dopamine rush Economists and neuroscientists use the same of winning overrides their conscious mathematical equations for modeling market knowledge that they will lose in the long run. behavior and dopamine behavior, Dr. Montague said. Neuroscience may provide an Other experiments show that reward circuits entirely new set of constructs for are activated when young men look at understanding economic decision making. photos of beautiful women and that these circuits are defective in women with eating New York Times disorders like bulimia. Bulimics say they are http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html? addicted to vomiting because it gives them a res=9800E5D61E3FF93AA25751C0A9649C8 warm, positive feeling. B63 17
  19. 19. Animal Behaviour make a critical decision about their hive if many of them disagree? What enables a school of herring to coordinate its Swarm Theory :The Genius of movements so precisely it can change Swarms direction in a flash, like a single, silvery organism? The collective abilities of such A single ant or bee isn't smart, but their animals—none of which grasps the big colonies are. The study of swarm picture, but each of which contributes to the intelligence is providing insights that group's success—seem miraculous even to the biologists who know them best. Yet can help humans manage complex during the past few decades, researchers systems, from truck routing to robots. have come up with intriguing insights. I used to think ants knew what they were One key to an ant colony, for example, is doing. The ones marching across my kitchen that no one's in charge. No generals counter looked so confident, I just figured command ant warriors. No managers boss they had a plan, knew where they were ant workers. The queen plays no role except going and what needed to be done. How else to lay eggs. Even with half a million ants, a could ants organize highways, build colony functions just fine with no elaborate nests, stage epic raids, and do all management at all—at least none that we the other things ants do? would recognize. It relies instead upon countless interactions between individual Turns out I was wrong. Ants aren't clever ants, each of which is following simple rules little engineers, architects, or warriors after of thumb. Scientists describe such a system all—at least not as individuals. When it as self-organizing. comes to deciding what to do next, most ants don't have a clue. quot;If you watch an ant try to accomplish something, you'll be impressed by how inept it is,quot; says Deborah M. Gordon, a biologist at Stanford University. How do we explain, then, the success of Earth's 12,000 or so known ant species? They must have learned something in 140 million years. quot;Ants aren't smart,quot; Gordon says. quot;Ant colonies are.quot; A colony can solve problems unthinkable for individual Consider the problem of job allocation. In ants, such as finding the shortest path to the Arizona desert where Deborah Gordon the best food source, allocating workers to studies red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex different tasks, or defending a territory from barbatus), a colony calculates each morning neighbors. As individuals, ants might be tiny how many workers to send out foraging for dummies, but as colonies they respond food. The number can change, depending on quickly and effectively to their environment. conditions. Have foragers recently They do it with something called swarm discovered a bonanza of tasty seeds? More intelligence. ants may be needed to haul the bounty home. Was the nest damaged by a storm Where this intelligence comes from last night? Additional maintenance workers raises a fundamental question in nature: may be held back to make repairs. An ant How do the simple actions of individuals might be a nest worker one day, a trash add up to the complex behavior of a collector the next. But how does a colony group? How do hundreds of honeybees 18
  20. 20. make such adjustments if no one's in That's how swarm intelligence works: charge? Gordon has a theory. simple creatures following simple rules, each one acting on local information. No ant sees the big picture. No ant tells any Ants communicate by touch and smell. When other ant what to do. Some ant species one ant bumps into another, it sniffs with its may go about this with more sophistication antennae to find out if the other belongs to than others. (Temnothorax albipennis, for the same nest and where it has been example, can rate the quality of a potential working. (Ants that work outside the nest nest site using multiple criteria.) But the smell different from those that stay inside.) bottom line, says Iain Couzin, a biologist at Before they leave the nest each day, Oxford and Princeton Universities, is that no foragers normally wait for early morning leadership is required. quot;Even complex patrollers to return. As patrollers enter the behavior may be coordinated by relatively nest, they touch antennae briefly with simple interactions,quot; he says. foragers. Inspired by the elegance of this idea, Marco quot;When a forager has contact with a patroller, Dorigo, a computer scientist at the it's a stimulus for the forager to go out,quot; Université Libre in Brussels, used his Gordon says. quot;But the forager needs several knowledge of ant behavior in 1991 to create contacts no more than ten seconds apart mathematical procedures for solving before it will go out.quot; particularly complex human problems, such as routing trucks, scheduling airlines, or To see how this works, Gordon and her guiding military robots. collaborator Michael Greene of the University of Colorado at Denver captured patroller ants In Houston, for example, a company named as they left a nest one morning. After American Air Liquide has been using an ant- waiting half an hour, they simulated the based strategy to manage a complex ants' return by dropping glass beads into the business problem. The company produces nest entrance at regular intervals—some industrial and medical gases, mostly coated with patroller scent, some with nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen, at about a maintenance worker scent, some with no hundred locations in the United States and scent. Only the beads coated with patroller delivers them to 6,000 sites, using pipelines, scent stimulated foragers to leave the nest. railcars, and 400 trucks. Deregulated power Their conclusion: Foragers use the rate of markets in some regions (the price of their encounters with patrollers to tell if it's electricity changes every 15 minutes in parts safe to go out. (If you bump into patrollers of Texas) add yet another layer of at the right rate, it's time to go foraging. If complexity. not, better wait. It might be too windy, or there might be a hungry lizard waiting out there.) Once the ants start foraging and quot;Right now in Houston, the price is $44 a bringing back food, other ants join the effort, megawatt for an industrial customer,quot; says depending on the rate at which they Charles N. Harper, who oversees the supply encounter returning foragers. system at Air Liquide. quot;Last night the price went up to $64, and Monday when the cold front came through, it went up to $210.quot; The quot;A forager won't come back until it finds company needed a way to pull it all together. something,quot; Gordon says. quot;The less food there is, the longer it takes the forager to find it and get back. The more food there is, Working with the Bios Group (now NuTech the faster it comes back. So nobody's Solutions), a firm that specialized in artificial deciding whether it's a good day to forage. intelligence, Air Liquide developed a The collective is, but no particular ant is.quot; computer model based on algorithms inspired by the foraging behavior of Argentine ants (Linepithema humile), a 19
  21. 21. species that deposits chemical substances companies have made calls go through called pheromones. faster on their networks by programming messages to deposit virtual pheromones at switching stations, just as ants leave signals quot;When these ants bring food back to the for other ants to show them the best trails. nest, they lay a pheromone trail that tells other ants to go get more food,quot; Harper explains. quot;The pheromone trail gets In the U.S., Southwest Airlines has tested an reinforced every time an ant goes out and ant-based model to improve service at Sky comes back, kind of like when you wear a Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. With trail in the forest to collect wood. So we about 200 aircraft a day taking off and developed a program that sends out billions landing on two runways and using gates at of software ants to find out where the three concourses, the company wanted to pheromone trails are strongest for our truck make sure that each plane got in and out as routes.quot; quickly as possible, even if it arrived early or late. Ants had evolved an efficient method to find the best routes in their neighborhoods. Why quot;People don't like being only 500 yards away not follow their example? So Air Liquide from a gate and having to sit out there until combined the ant approach with other another aircraft leaves,quot; says Doug Lawson artificial intelligence techniques to consider of Southwest. So Lawson created a computer every permutation of plant scheduling, model of the airport, giving each aircraft the weather, and truck routing—millions of ability to remember how long it took to get possible decisions and outcomes a day. into and away from each gate. Then he set Every night, forecasts of customer demand the model in motion to simulate a day's and manufacturing costs are fed into the activity. model. quot;The planes are like ants searching for the quot;It takes four hours to run, even with the best gate,quot; he says. But rather than leaving biggest computers we have,quot; Harper says. virtual pheromones along the way, each quot;But at six o'clock every morning we get a aircraft remembers the faster gates and solution that says how we're going to forgets the slower ones. After many manage our day.quot; simulations, using real data to vary arrival and departure times, each plane learned how to avoid an intolerable wait on the tarmac. For truck drivers, the new system took some Southwest was so pleased with the outcome, getting used to. Instead of delivering gas it may use a similar model to study the from the plant closest to a customer, as they ticket counter area. used to do, drivers were now asked to pick up shipments from whichever plant was making gas at the lowest delivered price, When it comes to swarm intelligence, ants even if it was farther away. aren't the only insects with something useful to teach us. On a small, breezy island off the southern coast of Maine, Thomas Seeley, a quot;You want me to drive a hundred miles? To biologist at Cornell University, has been the drivers, it wasn't intuitive,quot; Harper says. looking into the uncanny ability of honeybees But for the company, the savings have been to make good decisions. With as many as impressive. quot;It's huge. It's actually huge.quot; 50,000 workers in a single hive, honeybees have evolved ways to work Other companies also have profited by through individual differences of imitating ants. In Italy and Switzerland, opinion to do what's best for the colony. fleets of trucks carrying milk and dairy If only people could be as effective in products, heating oil, and groceries all use boardrooms, church committees, and town ant-foraging rules to find the best routes for deliveries. In England and France, telephone 20
  22. 22. meetings, Seeley says, we could avoid threshold confirmed by other experiments— problems making decisions in our own lives. the bees at that box sensed that a quorum had been reached, and they returned to the swarm with the news. During the past decade, Seeley, Kirk Visscher of the University of California, Riverside, and others have been studying quot;It was a race,quot; Seeley says. quot;Which site was colonies of honeybees (Apis mellifera) to see going to build up 15 bees first?quot; how they choose a new home. In late spring, when a hive gets too crowded, a colony normally splits, and the queen, some drones, and about half the workers fly a short distance to cluster on a tree branch. There the bees bivouac while a small percentage of them go searching for new real estate. Ideally, the site will be a cavity in a tree, well off the ground, with a small entrance hole facing south, and lots of room inside for brood and honey. Once a colony selects a site, it usually won't move again, so it has to Scouts from the chosen box then spread make the right choice. through the swarm, signaling that it was time to move. Once all the bees had warmed To find out how, Seeley's team applied paint up, they lifted off for their new home, which, dots and tiny plastic tags to identify all 4,000 to no one's surprise, turned out to be the bees in each of several small swarms that best of the five boxes. they ferried to Appledore Island, home of the Shoals Marine Laboratory. There, in a series The bees' rules for decision-making— of experiments, they released each swarm to seek a diversity of options, encourage a locate nest boxes they'd placed on one side free competition among ideas, and use of the half-mile-long (one kilometer) island, an effective mechanism to narrow which has plenty of shrubs but almost no choices—so impressed Seeley that he now trees or other places for nests. uses them at Cornell as chairman of his department. In one test they put out five nest boxes, four that weren't quite big enough and one that quot;I've applied what I've learned from the was just about perfect. Scout bees soon bees to run faculty meetings,quot; he says. appeared at all five. When they returned to To avoid going into a meeting with his the swarm, each performed a waggle dance mind made up, hearing only what he urging other scouts to go have a look. wants to hear, and pressuring people to (These dances include a code giving conform, Seeley asks his group to directions to a box's location.) The strength identify all the possibilities, kick their of each dance reflected the scout's ideas around for a while, then vote by enthusiasm for the site. After a while, secret ballot. quot;It's exactly what the swarm dozens of scouts were dancing their little bees do, which gives a group time to let the feet off, some for one site, some for another, best ideas emerge and win. People are and a small cloud of bees was buzzing usually quite amenable to that.quot; around each box. In fact, almost any group that follows the The decisive moment didn't take place in the bees' rules will make itself smarter, says main cluster of bees, but out at the boxes, James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of where scouts were building up. As soon as Crowds. quot;The analogy is really quite the number of scouts visible near the powerful. The bees are predicting which nest entrance to a box reached about 15—a site will be best, and humans can do the 21
  23. 23. same thing, even in the face of exceptionally making decisions than with precisely complex decisions.quot; Investors in the stock coordinating movement. market, scientists on a research project, even kids at a county fair guessing the Craig Reynolds, a computer graphics number of beans in a jar can be smart researcher, was curious about what these groups, he says, if their members are rules might be. So in 1986 he created a diverse, independent minded, and use a deceptively simple steering program called mechanism such as voting, auctioning, or boids. In this simulation, generic birdlike averaging to reach a collective decision. objects, or boids, were each given three instructions: 1) avoid crowding nearby boids, Take bettors at a horse race. Why are they 2) fly in the average direction of nearby so accurate at predicting the outcome of a boids, and 3) stay close to nearby boids. The race? At the moment the horses leave the result, when set in motion on a computer starting gate, the odds posted on the pari- screen, was a convincing simulation of mutuel board, which are calculated from all flocking, including lifelike and unpredictable bets put down, almost always predict the movements. race's outcome: Horses with the lowest odds normally finish first, those with second At the time, Reynolds was looking for ways lowest odds finish second, and so on. The to depict animals realistically in TV shows reason, Surowiecki says, is that pari-mutuel and films. (Batman Returns in 1992 was the betting is a nearly perfect machine for first movie to use his approach, portraying a tapping into the wisdom of the crowd. swarm of bats and an army of penguins.) Today he works at Sony doing research for quot;If you ever go to the track, you find a really games, such as an algorithm that simulates diverse group, experts who spend all day in real time as many as 15,000 interacting perusing daily race forms, people who know birds, fish, or people. something about some kinds of horses, and others who are betting at random, like the By demonstrating the power of self- woman who only likes black horses,quot; he organizing models to mimic swarm behavior, says. Like bees trying to make a decision, Reynolds was also blazing the trail for bettors gather all kinds of information, robotics engineers. A team of robots that disagree with one another, and distill their could coordinate its actions like a flock of collective judgment when they place their birds could offer significant advantages over bets. a solitary robot. Spread out over a large area, a group could function as a powerful That's why it's so rare to win on a long shot. mobile sensor net, gathering information about what's out there. If the group encountered something unexpected, it could There's a small park near the White House in adjust and respond quickly, even if the Washington, D.C., where I like to watch robots in the group weren't very flocks of pigeons swirl over the traffic and sophisticated, just as ants are able to come trees. Sooner or later, the birds come to rest up with various options by trial and error. If on ledges of buildings surrounding the park. one member of the group were to break Then something disrupts them, and they're down, others could take its place. And, most off again in synchronized flight. important, control of the group could be decentralized, not dependent on a leader. The birds don't have a leader. No pigeon is telling the others what to do. Instead, quot;In biology, if you look at groups with large they're each paying close attention to the numbers, there are very few examples pigeons next to them, each bird following where you have a central agent,quot; says Vijay simple rules as they wheel across the sky. Kumar, a professor of mechanical These rules add up to another kind of swarm engineering at the University of intelligence—one that has less to do with 22

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